Six degrees of connection: Lucile H. Bluford

History is all about connections, change and, I hope, progress. Lucile H. Bluford isn’t from Columbia, Missouri but she’s connected to Columbia, Missouri.

A book about this journalist, Black feminist and civil rights advocate was published on April 23, 2018 and I apologize for not publicizing it then. To buy it direct, click the title: “Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: An Activist Voice for Social Justice.” The book is authored by Sheila Brooks, Ph.D., and Clint C. Wilson.

Lucile H Bluford and the Kansas City Call book cover, used with permission.
Lucile H Bluford and the Kansas City Call book cover, used with permission.

So who is Bluford and how is she connected to Columbia?

Born in 1911 in Salisbury, North Carolina, Bluford was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, where her father moved the family when he took a position to teach there in 1918. She wrote for her high school newspaper at Lincoln High School and wanted to attend college to study journalism but at the time, the University of Missouri wouldn’t admit African Americans, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Several connections to the University of Missouri

Bluford’s first connection is one of disconnect. Because MU wouldn’t admit her, she attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and graduated in 1932 with high honors.

The next connection is again another of disconnection. In 1939, she “applied to the University of Missouri School of Journalism to do graduate work. She was accepted into the program, but when she went to Columbia to enroll, she was turned away. University officials had not known that she was African American. Just the year before, Lloyd Gaines, an honors student from Lincoln University, had sued the Univesity of Missouri to be accepted into its School of Law. After his case when to the United States Supreme Court and the court ruled in his favor, Gaines mysteriously disappeared,” according, again, to entry on Bluford entry on the State Historical Society of Missouri website.

But Bluford did not disappear. She filed several lawsuits against the university and in 1941, the state supreme court ruled in her favor — but the School of Journalism shut down its graduate program pleading a lack of faculty and students due to World War II.

Finally, there are three positive connections to MU. In 1984, the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism recognized Bluford and awarded her with the Honor Medal for Distinguished Serice in Journalism.

In 1989, the university awarded her with an honorary degree.

2018, MU named a residence all for her, an event which received significant media coverage. 

More connections: Brian Brooks

Brooks, professor emeritus of MU’s School of Journalism, called Bluford, “Little known outside the Missouri-Kansas area, Lucile Bluford nonetheless is one of the true heroines of the U.S. civil rights movement,” according to the book’s website.

Another connection: Clint C. Wilson II – School of Journalism Honor Medalist

The book co-author, Wilson, was given the School of Journalism’s Medal of Honor for Distinguished in Journalism in 1999. Wilson is professor emeritus of journalism, communication, culture and media studies at Howard University.

The book itself, according to a blurb in the October 2018 issue of the Missouri Historical Review, publication of The State Historical Society of Missouri, “attempts to place Bluford in historical context, in art by surveying black women journalists-activist predecessors such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Ida B. Wells, Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass, Mildred Dee Brown and Daisy Bates. The latter half of the book includes a quantitative analysis of reportage and opinion pieces on various civil rights issues written by Bluford between 1968 and 1983.” 

So while I don’t know if there’s a historic house in Columbia where she lived while she tried to attend the University of Missouri, Bluford and the book is connected to Columbia, through the historic racism and the progress made in Columbia shown by the University of Missouri recognizing her work even if belatedly.

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